On 4th November 2019 Lord Leigh of Hurley asked the Government “how many universities in England have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism; and what steps they intend to take in respect of those which have not”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Council of Christians and Jews, founded in the depths of the Second World War by Chief Rabbi Hertz and Archbishop William Temple. I applaud the noble Baroness’s long history of standing up for freedom of religion and belief. Like the noble Lord, the CCJ hears numerous reports of no-platforming, intimidation and lack of free speech. I fully accept that universities are autonomous, but will the Minister look for ways in which pressure can be applied to ensure that these standards are kept? Does she agree that mere exhortation is not really working?
Baroness Berridge (Con): I am grateful to the most reverend Primate. I obviously agree, but it is not “mere exhortation”. The EHRC guidance on freedom of expression on campus was put together with a number of stakeholders, including Universities UK, to deal with exactly the issues that have been faced. The universities have been reminded of their duty in relation to no-platforming and the closing down of free speech by the Office for Students, which is responsible for student well-being and safeguarding on campus. However, in the recent legislation, your Lordships’ House ensured that universities are autonomous institutions. Although the Secretary of State can issue guidance, this has to take into account the autonomy of those institutions.